Summer Classics property targeted – Columbiana threatens with eminent domain

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The city of Columbiana has SET a public hearing for 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 20 to take oral or written comments concerning a change to the city’s zoning ordinance regarding the Summer Classic’s property.

The city is proposing to rezone the Summer Classics property from M-1 (light industrial) to B-1 (retail shopping district).

Columbiana Mayor Allan Lowe said the city is need of public parking for its retail district and does not want a manufacturing operation in the heart of downtown.

While the rezoning request does not come from Summer Classics, the owner of the property, Sonny Conwill, the attorney who represents the company, said the city can move to make the change it.

The city has also made representatives of Summer Classics aware of the city’s potential use of its right of eminent domain to get the property at what it believes is a fair market value.

According to Lowe, Summer Classics is asking $1.1 million for its property in the city. He said there was such a difference between the city’s appraisal of the property and the asking price that he called Henry Seibels, a real estate agent representing the property, to make him &uot;aware the property could be subject to condemnation (eminent domain proceedings).&uot;

Seibels deferred all comments to Summer Classics President Bew White.

As to the rezoning effort by the city, Conwill said, &uot;The way they are approaching it, they actually can do it.&uot;

&uot;Apparently this is a recommendation that came from the zoning board. They do have, technically, the power to do that,&uot; Conwill said.

He said, however, that right

is &uot;rarely used.&uot;

He also said if the property is rezoned, a building remaining on the site will become a &uot;non-conforming use.&uot;

Lowe confirmed that the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing and recommended the rezoning of the property.

Lowe said of taking the property through eminent domain, &uot;Eminent domain should always be a last resort, and that’s what it will be in this case, a last resort for the public good.&uot;

Conwill said if Summer Classics and the city go to court, he will represent Summer Classics. But, he said, he plans to attend the rezoning hearing set for Monday night.

White said a previous report that the company had offered to give the property in question to the city if the city bore the expense of cleanup, &uot;certainly wasn’t mine.&uot;

He said, however, &uot;I had talked with the mayor about gifting a portion of it.&uot;

White also said the city

received a &uot;cheap appraisal&uot; for the property

that did not take into account the value of the adjacent parking site purchased by the county or the Baptist Health Center in Columbiana located across the street.

Lowe said the city received an appraisal of $320,000 for the entire four-and-a-half acre Summer Classics site.

However, he said, the city only wants three acres of the property. And he anticipated that the city could get that amount of property for less than the $320,000.

According to the finance office for the Shelby County Commission, however, the county paid $452,835 for an adjacent 1.68 acres. That property was taken through condemnation proceeding and was purchased by the county at fair market value on Sept. 1, 2001. It is the site where the city of Columbiana operates an electronic informational sign.

White said Summer Classics has not had an appraisal done on its property.

But he said when the city began &uot;threatening the company&uot; with eminent domain, company officials took adjacent property value and multiplied by the number of acres to get its value.

&uot;I think we’d rather try to work it out as opposed to going through the legal system,&uot; White said.

He also said he thought the final price might not be more than what the city is willing to pay. But he said the city has gotten in a hurry.

&uot;I feel like I’m being taken advantage of. My plant burned down and here I’m faced with (the city) taking my land,&uot; he said.

White said he did not know what the company position on the rezoning will be until he hears what the city has to say. But he also said the company does not want to rezone the property without knowing who the owner would be.

Wendy White, the actual owner of the property and wife of Bew White, said, &uot;I plan to be at the hearing. They’ve been dealing with Bew and our attorney.

&uot;They seem to be in a great rush to do this, and I feel the appraisal was low,&uot; she said.

She said Summer Classics did not have anyone present when the city had its appraisal done.

&uot;I understand that they have (the right of eminent domain). I’m not sure it is ethical or moral. I don’t think it paints a pretty picture for the city of Columbiana. But we’ll see what they have to say,&uot; Mrs. White said.

&uot;I don’t think we have a problem selling to them for a fair price.&uot;

Mrs. White said the company would have liked &uot;breathing room&uot;

(time) to determine what it wanted to do with the property.

She said the company cleaned up the property for the city so that it would not look bad. But she said, &uot;Before we knew it, they wanted to take it.&uot;

Bew White said another business had expressed an interest in leasing the remaining building which stands on the property. But, he said, he did not know what the situation will be now that the city wants to take the property.

White said Summer Classics could use the building itself because storage space is needed.

He said he plans to put grass and dirt down at the Summer Classics site by this weekend or early next week